How I Met My Hero, Dr. Janusz Korczak

My career as a writer and an educator has taken me to many special places; however, it was working with children with special needs that has enabled me to best put my love of children into practice.   My supervisor at a school for children with emotional and cognitive needs recommended two excellent books by Larry Brentro, president of Reclaiming Youth International.  While reading these books, No Disposable Kids and Reclaiming Youth At Risk: Our Hope for the Future, I kept coming across an unfamiliar name: Janusz Korczak.  Who?  I did not even know how to pronounce the name!  My curiosity led me to the story that most people associate with Korczak, how he refused to abandon the children he cared for in the Warsaw Ghetto and the eyewitness accounts of his final march, leading his charges in a procession of quiet dignity to the Umschlagplatz, to board a train to Treblinka.  This act of spiritual resistance, a story of indescribable sadness, had me in tears.  From that moment, I became determined to find out everything I could about this wonderful man.

 

After reading his works, When I Am Little Again, The Child’s Right to Respect, The Ghetto Diary, and King Matt, along with several biographies, most notably Betty Jean Lifton’s The King of Children, I discovered a remarkable man.  More than anyone else, he embodied the love of children and the disenfranchised.  Here was a man who not only wrote about social justice, he lived it, giving a voice to those who had none – or at best were not listened to.  I learned how his teachings became the inspiration for the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the 1979 UN Year of the Child was created in honor of the centenary of his birth. 

 

On a more personal level, I could readily identify with Korczak’s ability to relate to children on their terms, a trait that seemed to elude many people I met in the field of education and an aspect of my personality that too often became the butt of jokes among people who saw education as just another career and others who considered a grown man working with children an aberration, either unmanly or just plain weird.  In that context, Janusz Korczak became a source of comfort and inspiration, a kindred voice out there, someone with whom I desperately wanted to connect.  This intense feeling led me on a quest to research and collect whatever I could find related to Korczak.  Thanks to the ability of the Internet to search the globe, I have been able to locate and acquire every book by and about Pan Doctor, including some that are extremely rare.  Likewise, I have accumulated a collection of medals, coins, pins, and stamps that honor Korczak or are related to his life and work.  My appeals on the Internet have enabled me to meet many wonderful people from all over the world who shared my admiration for Korczak.  And so, Korczak remains my guiding star, an important source of my personal and ethical values.

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